Revenge of the Nerds

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Dominant Lethals

The author shows off his hitting skills

I have been a sports fan since my dad first took me to a baseball game, way back in 1987 (I still remember Wally Joyner hitting two home runs for the California Angels that day). As anyone who knows me can attest, I devour anything related to sports. If there is a competition that involves a ball of any sort, I will be interested in watching, playing, reading or talking about it.

But I also got good grades and genuinely liked learning. My involvement with sports was therefore always in conflict with my persona as the smart kid. I was intimidated by the regular “jocks,” and had a hard time relating to them as teammates, yet as an athlete, I had enough street cred to hang out in the presence of the cool kids that my more studious brethren could never approach. I lived in a grey area between these two worlds, a stranger in both, at home in neither.

Thus it was with great pride and satisfaction that I got to write about Boston Red Sox pitcher (and fellow smart guy) Craig Breslow in this month’s ASBMB Today. Like me, he studied biophysics at an Ivy League institution. Like me, Craig was an athlete (ok, maybe a slightly better one). And like me, he had battled against perceptions that athletes can’t be smart, and that smart people can’t play sports. Telling his story was an exercise in nostalgia and catharsis for me.

Craig Breslow

Craig Breslow during his college days. Image credit: Yale Athletics

Craig’s story is part of a recent trend that has seen science (ever so slowly) creep into the realm of athletics. Data-based sabermatic analyses now dominate sports. Science is a regular on the front of the sports page, providing critical evidence for stories about performance-enhancing drugs, or the potential links between neurodegenerative diseases and head trauma suffered by athletes, most notably those in the National Football League. ESPN’s “Sport Science” is a regular feature on Sportscenter, and draws hundreds of thousands of views online.

While my athletic dreams may not have worked out the way I imagined (I probably won’t end up hitting that home run to win the World Series), my academic ones are continuing to grow. When Craig’s baseball career eventually winds down, I hope that he will be able to pick up where he left off with his academic ones. Even if he doesn’t, he has already provided inspiration for those who thought that intelligence and athletics couldn’t mix. That’s the best kind of revenge.

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